The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 14, 2009

Where’s That Money I Left Lying Around?

concept of flushing money down the toiletI know it was there the last time I checked. Where’d it go?

When I heard the topic of this month’s Green Mom’s Carnival was “Conserving Resources,” I was stumped. I mean, I write about the topic every single time I post, right? Using less plastic = conserving resources. Plastic comes from oil. Use less plastic and conserve oil. Almost every consumer product these days comes packaged in plastic. Buying fewer products in plastic packing = buying fewer products in general = conserving resources. All of our electronic devices are made from plastic. Avoiding plastic means buying fewer technological toys = conserving materials and energy, right? What new thing can I say on the topic?

All this conservation should make a difference in my wallet. So how did I find myself at the ATM last week unable to withdraw cash because my checking account was empty? “Wait!” I thought. “I don’t buy things! There must be some mistake!”

Worried that someone had hacked into my account and stolen my money, I hurried home and jumped online to check. What I found was that I was the hacker. I was the one squandering my own resources. And for what?

While I don’t buy a lot of consumer goods, I do spend a lot on food. Here are some of the wasteful habits I’ve been thoughtlessly engaged in. Changes in these areas will help conserve the planet’s resources as well as my checking account:

1) Buying produce and letting it go bad. Oh, this happens all the time when I forget to eat during the day, come home starving, and have no energy to prepare something healthy. Instead, I cut myself some plastic-free bread and load it up with plastic-free cheese, my version of convenience food, and the produce ends up in the compost bin.

I’ve always justified this habit by rationalizing that the food is returning back to the earth, in the form of compost. But that’s as wrong-headed as believing that recycling is the answer to over-packaging. It took energy and water to grow and bring that food to market. And it cost money to buy. Letting it go to waste is not only wrong-headed, it’s completely antithetical to my supposed ideal of caring for all the materials that pass through our lives.

Resolution: Waste less food.

2) Overconsuming coffee and sweet treats. As you know, I bring my reusable travel mug and glass straw with me everywhere I go to avoid the waste from paper cups, lids, and straws. I bring reusable cloth napkins and bamboo cutlery. I’m prepared to do without disposable dishes and utensils. But what about the food and beverages themselves? Coffee and chocolate and sugar, unless they are organic and Fair Trade, take a huge toll on the planet. And even if they are produced in as eco-friendly a manner as possible, they certainly don’t grow in Oakland, CA. How much energy does it take to transport all these exotic luxuries that we have come to take for granted? And how much money would I save if I didn’t need to have them every day?

Resolution: Treat non-local foods (coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, etc.) like the luxuries they are. Eat less of them.

3) Eating in restaurants.
Eating in restaurants isn’t necessarily bad for the planet and doesn’t have to leave a vacuum in our wallets if we do it wisely. Sticking to local businesses that serve fresh, local foods on durable dishware (rather take out) could be good for our health and the environment. And since restaurants buy their ingredients in bulk, they certainly generate less packaging waste per diner than is consumed by individuals each buying smaller sizes of the same foods.

But most restaurants in America serve portions that are too big for our actual needs. And most of them add way more fat, salt, and sugar than we would probably add to our foods at home. Is eating more calories than we need any different from letting food go to waste? My bathroom scale and mirror are telling me that I’m carrying this excess waste around my waist. And other body parts. And my bank account is not happy for the excess spending either.

Resolution: Choose only restaurants that serve local, fresh foods and order small portions or carry home leftovers (in my stainless steel container.)

4) Drinking alcohol. Oh, here it comes. Confession time again. Many of you have heard this one before. Alcohol helps to quell the fear of unpunctuated silence, the endless possibilities of what could be if I sat with my feelings instead of trying to push them aside. Wine especially is so damned tasty and enjoyable and helps me forget what a loser I am. I think it’s probably true that anyone who puts themselves out on a limb to be different in this society probably deals with self-doubt and insecurity. And many of us have our crutches that we use to get through. Alcohol is a bad one.

I’ve gone through successful periods of banning alcohol from my home and only indulging moderately during social occasions outside of my home. Wine is not an inherently bad thing for me. But like coffee and chocolate and all those other pleasures, it should be enjoyed in moderation and respected for the special treat that it is. Wine, like anything else, requires materials and energy to produce and ship, and of course packaging! Glass bottles, cork stoppers, tin foils. Even though I am careful to buy bottles that don’t contain plastic corks or plastic foils, wine still contains the most packaging of anything I still consume. Cutting down (again) will be good for the planet, my wallet, and my own personal sanity.

Resolution: No more alcohol in the house.

The main reason for the drain on my bank account was not overspending for food. It was actually loss of pay during the extra days I spent in Hawaii taking care of my family. But I’m sure that if I live more frugally and treat food like the precious resource it is, I’ll have more of a cushion for any emergencies that might arise. And isn’t that what all the Peak Oil bloggers are trying to get us to do in the first place?

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La Mama Naturale'
14 years ago

There's always some way I'm trying to cut back. I'm also a sucker for sweets. Wow! No wine…that's pretty darn dedicated! You're awesome!!! :)

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

I love Deanna's (crunchy chicken) comment!

I also eat way to many sweets and waste a lot of food.

Sweets is the really hard one for me!

But as others have said don't be to hard on yourself. Take it slow and remember how much more you are doing than most! :) Love ya Beth!
14 years ago

I admire your resolutions, but give yourself a break! No wine? I did recently read something that said throwing away food (even composting it) was one of the worst things we can do — all the energy it takes to get the food to our homes is just wasted. I struggle with this, too, and am making a concerted effort to do more meal planning so it doesn't happen as often.

Citizen Green
14 years ago

I would like to honor Fake Plastic Fish with the Kreativ Blogger Award. You can read more about it on my post and feel free to participate or not. I have enjoyed reading your blog since my son first sailed with the Alguita. I have learned a lot about how to be green and I really enjoy your blog. Thanks!!

mother earth aka karen hanrahan
14 years ago

i am experiencing this very food thing myself – i eat fresh daily, and alot of it but i think i am still in my minds eye I am purchasing for two – the nest might be empty but the habits still want a full fridge …i also truly despise shopping. so i buy for two weeks at a time, and guess what? fresh just doesn't last that long – i am transitioning …i'll additionally chime in on the you are not a loser chant my dear …i personally have some wine on a friday night simply because it feels good …is it friday yet??

14 years ago

You are so right about wasting food. We Americans waste soooo much food. I give my food waste to my chickens, but it is still waste that should have been used by me.

You are not a loser. You are very accepting, friendly, and sweet. Plus – a great singer. Lighten up on yourself!

Mary Kay
14 years ago

I could have written this post! I am guilty of all of these things, but part of life is to enjoy yourself so don't be too hard on yourself. Also, buying coffee and eating out can be a way to support the local economy. Here in California we have the opportunity to support some great local wineries.

Condo Blues
14 years ago

When your produce starts to go before you eat it – freeze it! Then you have something to defrost as a heathly quick meal for later.

Martin at Plasticless
14 years ago

I see frugality in action every day in all kinds of ways. I am living in a developing country. I see a lot of wasteful practices as well.

A lot of what suburban and urban Americans would call food waste is generally thought of as sheep food or chicken food here. I have permission from a neighbor to toss stale bread and produce into his yard. I hope local governments in North America start preemptively striking out bylaws that prevent backyard hobby farms.

Web Knitter
14 years ago

I'm concerned that you see yourself as a "loser" which is certainly not reality and not the way the readers of this blog see you.

I've made changes in what I purchase, why I purchase, and how I dispose of things because of reading your blog. I've shifted from Recycle to Reduce and Reuse. We joined a CSA this year because of Fake Plastic Fish.

That isn't a loser I'm following; that's a leader.

Humble Vegan
14 years ago

I LUV your blog. I've told all my followers to link on to you! You always hae great ideas that I am trying to implement. I am starting my own compost, not so much for me, but for all the deer and other little critters around so they can have fresh produce to munch on. Plus, I eat 2 pounds of raw EVERY day, so that adds up to a LOT of produce scraps. Even after I make veggies stock! Hope you will check out my blog… ! Your HumbleVegan :-)

14 years ago

Beth, finally you have come out and admitted the truth – you are a loser! NOT. I couldn't resist.

I hear you on #1 – that is a constant issue with me and honeybun. I hate food spoiling.

#2 – chocolate is our weakness but we buy it direct, 5 boxes of 12 bars each at a time. Choc and tea is a very nice daily routine after work.

#3 – absolutely!

#4 – ugh, I hate the taste of alcohol in any form, beer, wine, hard stuff so no problem avoiding it. I think my dislike of alcohol, indifference to professional sports and preference for home cooking is largely responsible for my ability to retire early on the money I've saved.

But on one thing – plastic using up petroleum – I'd bet that the weight saved by using plastic instead of metal and glass more than makes up for the petro. used in the amount saved in shipping weight.

14 years ago

Just wanted to let you know (if you didn't already) that corks are recyclable. We save ours in a giant vase as a decor item, but you can recycle them. See

– Rachel

14 years ago

These are very insightful ideas. Have you considered "Provident Living"? Maybe you could reconsider your food budget by food storage.Cooking meals at home, utilizing what you have in your pantry, but keeping your pantry stocked as your family needs it. You can save more of your food budget by shopping smarter, and planning your meals, even lunch for work and random snacks. Its not as anal as it seems.
I applaud your disipline in trying to prevent plastic waste from "you" and educating others. Since I have been reading your blog I have taken a serious look at my plastic waste, and I have been more diligent in my plastic recycling. Thanks

14 years ago

"The main reason for the drain on my bank account was not overspending for food. It was actually loss of pay during the extra days I spent in Hawaii taking care of my family."

Thanks for honoring your aged, doddering parents!

"But I'm sure that if I live more frugally and treat food like the precious resource it is, I'll have more of a cushion for any emergencies that might arise."

Sometimes working more hours helps with the bank account.

Mahalo nui loa, babe.

Green Bean
14 years ago

We all have our weaknesses. :) I'm continuing to whittle away at mine.

14 years ago

Oh my, I must have missed that loser comment the first time around… love your wine, but you are not a loser! :)

I think there are always ways for modern people to go even greener, use less resources, conserve more, but we all deserve a little wine or chocolate once in a while too!

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

I don't drink coffee, tea, or alcohol. But don't get me started on the chocolate and sugar ;)

14 years ago

In the culture that I grew up in wine was [and still is] considered intergal part of a meal and community.
So cook your veggies instead of composting them and have a nice glass of wine with your meal. This will result in less wasted food, better digestion, and happy conversation.
It's also a whole lot cheaper to buy wine for home meals.
You will not only eat and drink local products and save money but you will aslo put a stop on that "loser' talk.

Amy K.
14 years ago

I want to echo all of the above, that you are awesome and those are some hardcore conservation pledges.

My only nitpick is about sugar not being a local crop. As a Michigander who grew up on Pioneer sugar, made from beets grown and processed in the thumb, I had to look for beet growers near you. Yep, Spreckels is in Mendota California. I can't tell if that brand would be on the shelves in a shore near you, or if they sell to larger manufacturers.

It's still good to go easy on the sweet stuff, I just wanted to point out that not all sugar is cane sugar from warmer climates.

14 years ago

Beth – thanks for having the courage to go out on a limb and be different. You are so not a loser.


Beth Terry
14 years ago

Oh Jenn. Don't do it. You will die of a heart attack when you see the sorry state of my tomatoes this year. Just more waste. :-(

Mindful Momma
14 years ago

Such an insightful post Beth! Thank you for reaching beyond your world of plastic and sharing your personal consumption story.

14 years ago

I'll come by to pick up all yr booze. Muah ha ha ha ha!

14 years ago

oh, loser; girl though art not!
Hootch in the house is a baddie here too!
But know that you are still my knight in shining example!

14 years ago

It's already been said, but I think it can't be said enough:

Beth, you are NOT a loser.

Thank you for your post (and all of your posts).

(a canuck in england)

14 years ago

Oh Beth. Where to begin? Great post – good points all, EXCEPT – you are not a loser [you are clever, because by writing that, all of are going to tell you that you are not a loser].

Re: WINE. Dear Beth, how I have enjoyed plowing through gallons of wine with you. And more often, with Mark. I, too, have had to quit partying with Dionysus. It's been 14 long days. Quite a feat, for me. Sometimes, at night, I hear the Sea Ridge vinters crying.

14 years ago

Great post, but I must argue one point: You are not a loser. If you were I wouldn't read your blog, because it would be lame. But I know wine sure distracts when we start thinking those thoughts!

Diane MacEachern
14 years ago

Whoaaa – you are being waaayyy too hard on yourself, girl! Ban all wine? I don't think so – though I do agree about eating out a restaurants less often. Often, I eat out because I'm so tired of eating in (food shopping, cooking, cleaning up, dull recipes, etc. etc.). My new habit is to take some reusable containers to the restaurant with me, and take home the leftovers, which are usually enough for at least one additional meal, if not two. I don't feel nearly so bad about spending the money on restaurant food if I'm getting two or three meals out of one. And the resources aren't wasted then, either.

Crunchy Chicken
14 years ago

I've got a way to resolve two of your problems.

Take that old fruit and instead of throwing it into the compost you should ferment it and make your own fruit wines, thereby solving your need for some hootch now and again :)

14 years ago

What a great way to look at conservation. I so think a lot about buying local and fair trade and organic, but to give up coffee and wine? But you really got me thinking. Less is more…